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Can we use Feng Shui for the Good of Cities?


As important as intimate spaces, the urban environment deserves care and lasting harmony...

Cities are living, fascinating beings, always increasingly populated. During the past century, migration patterns around the world were directed toward cities to the extent that by 2050 it’s estimated that 70% of the world population will live in urban areas. Such figures invite some thought on how to make the spaces we share so closely more balanced, functional and beautiful. There are numerous proposals for how to do it (including urban acupuncture) and one, practiced centuries ago in China, is feng shui. It can be applied as well to a space in which we live as to any large city.

The Chinese words feng and shui literally mean “wind” and “water.” More precisely, they could be said to refer to the paths of wind and water. The two natural elements, in the Taoist tradition, are essential to the flow of energy, called Qi. Such energy promotes consciousness and the harmonious occupation of space as well as the well-being of those inhabiting that same space. The ancient practice acts on two planes: ken kai, the plane of the earth (visible and physical) and yu kai, that of heaven (unknown, invisible, but with vibratory qualities). The ancient Chinese art of feng shui consists in the arrangement of structures and objects within space to promote harmony, and to conserve energy and balance.

Among the basic concepts for understanding feng shui and its practice are Qi (energy as life force), Geju (location), Jushi (balance) and TianRenHeYi (harmony between humankind and the environment). Although in the West we’re more familiar with the use of Geju within closed spaces and in interior decoration, the theories and concepts used in feng shui can easily be applied to urbanism, to the design of spaces, and in landscape architecture. The result is increased harmony, comfort and functionality in public and urban spaces.

In ancient China, for at least 4 thousand years, cities were planned following many of the principles which are today identified with feng shui. Such planning focused mainly on the configurations of spatial patterns based on the organization and availability of water and wind, the elements which allow for the flow of energy capable of positively or negatively affecting space and the elements within it.

Another important element of feng shui, easily applied to architecture, is based in the cardinal directions which happen to also bear striking names: blue dragon (east), red phoenix (south), white tiger (west), and dark turtle (north). According to the doctrine, the correct positioning of the elements with respect to these points can balance the energy of the space and, therefore, the quality of the landscape and its ecosystems. The two main methods of feng shui for the restoral of a landscape are the addition or subtraction of its elements.

These points still influence contemporary architecture in many countries of the Far East in one way or another. This is especially the case in China, Japan and Korea. One of the main implications includes a configuration of spaces that implies frequent interactions between the human activities and their physical environments – an example might be in interior gardens.

Feng shui was born of the empirical knowledge of the patterns of natural landscapes. This endowed the practice with a thousand-year-old and, in many ways, still inexplicable wisdom. Strictly speaking, feng shui isn’t a scientific theory, but rather it’s a collection of empirical concepts integrating cultural, religious, and idiosyncratic beliefs. Whether the practice is more related to magic or spirituality, it works based on real principles. It’s true that there are spaces which are more or less suitable for humanity and humanity’s proper functioning. There are places where the air circulates, the light illuminates, and with water sources, natural elements such as plants, where it’s possible to create what we might call “microclimates,” spaces which, when applied to a city, bear fascinating results.


Image: Creative Commons, by Dronepicr (edited by Faena Aleph).

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